New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been thrust into the role of national and world leader following the terrorist attack in Christchurch at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center. Her actions and composure have been widely praised by the local and global Muslim community, journalists, and global leaders. Presidents and Prime Ministers around the world should take note.
Here are three ways that PM Ardern has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in the face of national tragedy:
From the start, Ardern did not hesitate to describe the Muslim mosque attack in blunt, unapologetic terms. “It is clear that this can only be described as a terrorist attack,” she said in her first public address of the shooting. “You may have chosen us — but we utterly reject and condemn you.” Her unwavering recognition of the white nationalism that motivated this act of terror against the Muslim community differentiates her from the political leaders around the world who fail to acknowledge terrorism when the perpetrator is white or espouses alt-right ideologies.
Bloomberg News reported that within days of the attack, Ardern had mobilized to overhaul the gun laws in her country. “Why is it that we have a situation where military style semi-automatic weapons are available to license holders?” The publication pointed out that New Zealand has a high gun ownership rate but low gun homicide rate; nonetheless, the administration prior to Ardern’s rejected parliamentary recommendations to enact stricter gun laws to ensure the safety of its citizens. This past weekend, she reiterated her position. “I can tell you right now, our gun laws will change.” Her conviction is in stark contrast to NRA-funded American politicians who insist that discussing gun legislation is inappropriate following mass shootings.
Strength Through Empathy
Ardern spent the day after the attack visiting the families and the community who were grieving the loss of life in Christchurch. She wore hijab in solidarity and respect for the victims. “The prime minister, when she came wearing her scarf, that was big for us,” one of the mourners told Reuters. In her engagements with the community, she has positioned herself as a public servant, allowing them to dictate what they need, and has prioritized returning to families the remains of their loved ones once they are identified. She has also pledged to cover each of the 50 victims’ funeral costs and financial assistance to the families.
Ever since she was inaugurated, Ardern has embraced a style of political leadership that centers around empathy. “It takes courage and strength to be empathetic. And I’m very proud to be an empathetic, compassionately-driven politician,” she told the BBC last fall. She is well aware that this has opened her up to criticism from her opposition but has expressed no intention in changing. “We teach kindness and empathy and compassion to our children, but then we somehow when it comes to political leadership want a complete absence of that. So I am trying to chart a different path — that will attract critics. But I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership that I believe in.”